With the almighty Slayer currently in the midst of their farewell tour, it seems only fitting to reminisce on what they’ve meant to me as a longtime metal fan, and to the metal community as a whole. My first experience with Slayer was when I was very young – probably around ten or eleven years old. At the risk of dating myself, the first Slayer record I ever heard was ‘Reign in Blood.’ At the time, I had just started getting into heavier music, having been first introduced to the more “hair band” type stuff like Mötley Crüe and Scorpions.
I was a huge Mötley Crüe fan as a little kid living in Sacramento, California at the time. My friends and I would even try to mimic the black, under-eye and cheek face paint that Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee used to wear during their ‘Shout at the Devil’ era. We thought that was the heaviest, most evil shit ever with their over-the-top shock-rock antics, satanic lyrics, and pentagram imagery. It really pissed my parents off, let me tell you.
Later on, during our quest for ever-heavier music, my friends and I would be introduced to Bay Area thrash metal in the form of a little band called Metallica. It was ‘Master of Puppets’ that first came onto our radar. From the opening speed metal riffs of “Battery” to the sludgey pummeling of “The Thing That Should Not Be,” it was essentially the sound of the door being slammed shut on hair metal for me. At this point, thrash was the only true metal in my mind and I never planned on looking back. I became obsessed with Metallica (as we metal fans tend to do.) I dove into their entire catalog headfirst and loved virtually every second of it. It was the most perfect blend of aggression, heaviness, and melody I’d ever heard up to that point.
Enter: Slayer. As I mentioned before, ‘Reign in Blood’ was my first exposure to their music. I’d heard a lot of talk about Slayer leading up to me actually hearing their stuff for the first time, so as a budding thrash metal fan and hardcore Metallica devotee by this point, I was pretty confident going into it that it would be right up my alley. My family had moved to the Bay Area during the late eighties, and if you lived here in that era, Slayer was impossible to ignore for a fan of heavy music.
I picked up the ‘Reign in Blood’ cassette tape at the local music store, popped it into my stereo, and threw on the headphones one night in my room. I remember I was sitting there on the floor facing the stereo with my back to my bedroom door. My dad had already gone to bed, so as far as I knew I was the only one awake in the house.
Track one, “Angel of Death” begins with its iconic high-velocity riffing and violently pounding drums. So far, so good. Next – in comes Tom Araya with some sort of high-pitched, Rob Halford-ish operatic wail – and for a brief moment I thought I’d made a horrible mistake. Is this going to be melodic, Judas Priest-style vocals? Nothing against Priest but that just wasn’t where I was at musically at the moment. I wanted the heaviest shit possible, none of this actual “singing.” No sooner do I begin to regret my album purchase does Araya drop that squealing high note down into the darkest depths of Hell with a maniacally, blood-curdling growl. That. Was. Fucking. Awesome! Okay, now I’m ready for this.
Onward the track plays – and with every second, I’m digging it more and more. Next comes the iconic, arguably heaviest, arguably greatest metal breakdown section of all time. The pace slows down to a groove with a guitar riff that sounds like only Satan himself could have written it. Araya raps sinisterly in a voice that sounds almost inhuman in its otherworldly, demonic tone. The lyrics are truly grotesque and violently explicit as he describes, in detail, some of the most unimaginable horrors carried out in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. At the time, I didn’t understand the full meaning of the subject matter, I just knew it sounded evil as hell. Sitting alone in my room that night, at ten or eleven years old, it all begins to become too much.
With a sick curiosity and love for all things metal, it’s the perfect combination of everything I’d always wanted but never heard until this precise moment. Still, as a little kid hearing this for the first time, it scared the absolute shit out of me! I stopped the song and turned around to look at my door behind me, afraid I might see someone (or something) standing there. I was thoroughly freaked out – but at the same time I absolutely loved it. Eventually, I put the headphones back on and kept listening. From time to time, I still had to stop and look behind me (you know, just to make sure) but this music was way too good to put down.
I listened to the whole album in all of its furiously fast-paced 29-minute runtime in one sitting. It was like a shot of satanic adrenaline to the chest. My heart was pounding, palms sweaty. This record truly affected me – for better or for worse – as an aspiring fan of metal. From that day on, I was hooked. Nothing was ever too heavy (or scary) again and Slayer became one of my all-time favorites with ‘Reign in Blood’ as the benchmark in my mind for pushing the boundaries of extreme music.
Having been a follower and enthusiast of music, particularly metal, for over the past 30 years, I can say without a doubt that Slayer’s contribution to metal has been nothing short of legendary status. There’s a definite reason why they are considered one of The Big Four and why they have one of the most, if not the most devoted and passionate fanbases in all of music.
Thank you to Kerry King, Tom Araya, Dave Lombardo, Paul Bostaph, and Gary Holt for creating and performing some of the greatest metal of all time and for always staying true to your fans. Last but certainly not least, rest in peace to the great Jeff Hanneman. Farewell, fucking Slayer!
Slayer Final World Tour Dates
26 Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion, Gilford, NH
27 Impact Music Festival, Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, Bangor, ME
29 Northwell Health at Jones Beach, Wantagh, NY
31 The Pavilion at Montage Mountain, Scranton, PA
1 Times Union Center, Albany, NY
3 Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, Darien Lake, NY
4 Lakeview Amphitheater, Syracuse, NY
6 Budweiser Gardens, London, ON
7 Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI
9 Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, St. Louis, MO
10 Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood, Atlanta, GA
12 Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, TN
13 Walmart AMP, Rogers, AR
15 Freeman Coliseum, San Antonio, TX
16 The Zoo Amphitheatre, Oklahoma City, OK
18 Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre, Denver, CO
19 USANA Amphitheatre, Salt Lake City, UT
21 Ford Idaho Center Amphitheater, Boise, ID
23 Sunlight Supply Amphitheater, Portland, OR
26 SAP Center, San Jose, CA